Santa Maria Refinery scheduled to close in 2023
Energy company Phillps 66 announced earlier this month its plans to close its Santa Maria Refinery, causing ExxonMobil to hit a snag in its pending application for a temporary oil trucking permit.
The closure is also an obstacle for the company’s long-term efforts to restart oil platforms shut down after the massive oil spill of May 19, 2015 at Refugio State Beach.
Phillips 66’s announcement means the one refinery ExxonMobil would be allowed to truck oil to under the recommendations of Santa Barbara County staff would be out of commission in just over two years.
As detailed in a Planning Commission staff report, the County recommends modifying ExxonMobil’s original proposal that allowed the company to truck oil to two receiving sites, the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery and the Plains Pentland Terminal near the city of Maricopa in Kern County, down to just transporting oil to the former. According to the report, ExxonMobil is supportive of this arrangement.
The modified oil trucking project, like the original, is part of a phased restart to ExxonMobil’s Santa Ynez Unit facilities, offshore platforms Hondo, Harmony, and Heritage. These have been out of commission since the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured and caused an oil spill in 2015.
The estimated spill was more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil, including some 20,000 gallons that made it to the ocean. More than 120 birds and 65 marine mammals were killed.
Under the amended proposal, ExxonMobil would truck crude oil from its Las Flores Canyon processing facility up Highway 101 to the Santa Maria Refinery, while the Pentland facility would only be used if the Santa Maria Refinery’s truck loading facilities fell out of commission for 10 consecutive days or more. Crude oil trucking on the highway would last for seven years or whenever a new pipeline became available to transport ExxonMobil’s oil to refineries, whichever came first.
However, the Santa Maria facility’s planned shutdown in less than three year’s time has driven ExxonMobil to reschedule its Sept. 2 Planning Commission hearing for the modified trucking permit. The oil company’s media relations advisor Julie King told the News-Press that ExxonMobil will find a new date for the hearing as it considers how this development will impact the future of the trucking project.
“We are determining how their proposal may affect our pending application for a temporary trucking permit,” she said.
Opponents of ExxonMobil’s efforts to truck oil and restart offshore oil production believe the company should withdraw its proposal requesting a trucking permit following Phillips 66’s announcement. Center for Biological Diversity ocean campaigner Stephanie Prufer said ExxonMobil should “follow Phillips 66’s lead” in shifting focus from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
Phillips 66’s press release announcing the future shutdown of the Santa Maria Refinery also said the company is going to reconfigure its San Francisco Refinery in Rodeo to make renewable fuels from used cooking oil, fats, greases, and soybean oils. Ms. Prufer said this move indicates “the end of the era of oil” is here, and that ExxonMobil should similarly shift to renewable energy production, which is necessary to combat climate change.
“The only way we’re going to combat climate change is by keeping fossil fuels in the ground,” she said.
Environmental Defense Center senior attorney Maggie Hall said nonprofits Get Oil Out! and Santa Barbara County Action Network, both represented by the EDC, would very much like ExxonMobil to cease its application for crude oil trucking and decommission its offshore platforms. Calling trucking a “risky” proposition and resumed fossil fuel production a move that would only exacerbate climate change, Ms. Hall said the Phillips 66 development is just another reason the project shouldn’t go forward.
“There were already many reasons to deny this project, but due to the circumstances that just points to us not even attempting to restart the oil platforms that have been shut down since 2015,” she said.